RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Supervisors Manuel Perez and Karen Spiegel said today that Riverside County is working in concert with surrounding counties to seek concessions from the governor to relax regulations and permit the expedited reopening of more economic sectors, as coronavirus infection and death rates continue to slow.
“We are working diligently for the reopening of businesses,” Spiegel said during a livestreamed news briefing from the County Administrative Center in Riverside. “We want to do it safely and successfully.”
According to the supervisors, Riverside County has partnered with elected officials in Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to present a joint request for Gov. Gavin Newsom to consider granting “variances” to his four-phase plan paving the way to full restoration of private sector activity under public health executive orders.
“We want to accelerate through phase two,” Perez said. “We are
guided by best practices for health and safety. We will do everything we can to suppress the virus and move our economy forward.”
The supervisors said the county has generally met most of Newsom’s criteria for advancing jurisdictions into the latter half of phase two, at which point dine-in eateries, beauty shops, houses of worship and wineries would be allowed to open their doors under safeguards. Currently, manufacturers, warehouse operators and some retail establishments are allowed to operate.
The main stumbling block preventing a wider reopening is a requirement by Newsom and the California Department of Public Health that counties not have had more than one documented COVID-19-related death in 14 days.
“For urban counties, it’s almost impossible to meet that metric,” Spiegel said.
According to Riverside University Health System figures, the number of deaths stemming from coronavirus complications stands at 242. The number of documented infections is 5,618, and the number of patient recoveries is 3,430.
“The cases are really slowing down,” RUHS Dr. Geoffrey Leung said. “The positivity rate (from tests) has dropped, and compared to two or three weeks ago … the trend line is moving downward for coronavirus-related deaths.”
He cautioned that while case loads have flattened, COVID-19 diagnoses are still occurring daily. However, data show hospitalizations countywide have dropped by one-fifth compared to three weeks ago.
Asked whether further investigation by county pathologists might be valuable in determining whether all of the COVID-19 death data is legitimate, the supervisors said it was possible, given the governor’s steep threshold for moving farther into phase two and then phase three, when theaters, libraries, museums, bars and lounges can open their doors without fear of state penalties.
“It’s a really good question, and I don’t see why we can’t follow up with the coroner’s office to dig deeper into that,” Perez said.
Under state law, attending physicians can notate causes of death on death certificates without their findings being reviewed.
Perez and Spiegel said they’re hoping the governor and his staff will indulge a meeting with Riverside County elected officials, as well as those from the other three counties, to discuss altering or granting relief from his multi-phase criteria.
According to Perez and Spiegel, the “Readiness & Reopening Framework” approved by the Board of Supervisors last week establishes a range of standards that align with state mandates and ensure the county’s public and private sectors protect vulnerable populations, including the disabled, elderly and homeless, while re-mobilizing the regional economy.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines show we’re in downward trends, but we still must protect life,” Perez said. “The county is going to lose $30 to $40 million this fiscal year. Maybe $100 million next year. That means real lives are impacted. We have to have balance.”
All county residents — whether they are suffering from coronavirus symptoms or not — can get tested at a variety of locations, including eight funded by the state that opened last week. To receive exams at these sites, which include Mecca, Norco, Desert Hot Springs and Hemet, appointments must be made at https://lhi.care/covidtesting.
Four drive-up testing sites run by county public health officials in Perris, Indio, Riverside and Lake Elsinore remain operational and can be accessed if an appointment is made ahead of time. The appointments line is 800- 945-6171.
Leung said that, to date, about 3% of the county’s population has received a COVID-19 swab test.